Asking Multi-Level Questions About Texts (Research Summary)

In this Principal Leadership article, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey say principals should pay close attention to the kinds of questions teachers ask students about the texts they are reading. A steady diet of knowledge and comprehension questions fosters literal reading and stunts students’ growth. Questions that get students synthesizing and evaluating prepare them for the kind of thinking they will have to do in high school, college, and life.

Fisher and Frey advocate a balance of questions. They also note that the Common Core State Standards require students to provide evidence from the text to justify their answers and opinions – something many students aren’t accustomed to doing. Here are some suggested questions (directly quoted):

Questions about the story:

  • What happened in the story?
  • Were you able to predict the ending?
  • What other way might the story have ended?
  • What will probably happen next?
  • What might have happened if a certain action had not taken place?
  • What was the most important part of the story?
  • List important words about people, animals, places, or things.

Questions about the setting:

  • Where did the story take place?
  • Why did this setting work?
  • Do you know of a place like this?
  • When did the story take place?
  • Which part of the story best describes the setting?
  • What words does the author use to describe the setting?

Questions about the author:

  • What do you know about the author?
  • Why do you think the author wrote the book?
  • What is he or she trying to tell you in the book?
  • What does this book tell us about the author?
  • What sorts of things does the author like or dislike?
  • What did the author have to know about to write this book?

Questions about characters:

  • Choose one character: Why is this person important in the story? What lesson did the character learn?
  • Do any of the characters change?
  • Why did they behave as they did?
  • Was the behavior of a particular character right or wrong?
  • Are people really like these characters?

Basic questions:

  • Was there anything you liked about this book? What especially caught your attention? What would you have liked more of?
  • Was there anything you disliked?
  • Were there parts that bored you?
  • Was there anything that puzzled you or that you thought was strange?
  • Was there anything that completely surprised you?

Summary of  “Asking Questions That Prompt Discussion” by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in Principal Leadership, November 2011 (Vol. 12, #3, p. 58-60),

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